McHenry County school districts prepare to dive into remote learning plans

Students, teachers eye new routine while adhering to Pritzker’s order

Crystal Lake South freshman Gavin Kempf-Kutemeier, 14, works on e-learning activities from home March 19 in Crystal Lake.
Crystal Lake South freshman Gavin Kempf-Kutemeier, 14, works on e-learning activities from home March 19 in Crystal Lake.

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Education enters a new world Monday as Illinois teachers and students start e-learning programs that will be used at least through April 7.

Teachers will deliver their lessons via computer to their students, who then can complete the work and receive feedback online.

Concerns about the spread of COVID-19 forced Gov. JB Pritzker to issue a stay-at-home order until April 7. As more cases of the coronavirus are reported, it appears the order likely will be extended past that date.

The order started March 14, which left one week of classes before most schools’ spring breaks. Pritzker declared the days of March 16 to 20 as “act of God” days that schools did not have to use e-learning.

Now, with spring breaks over, schools venture into remote learning for an indefinite period.

“If you’ve never done anything before, you have to try it to see what the bumps in the road are,” Johnsburg Principal Kevin Shelton said. “That’s the main challenge. Anytime you use a new form of delivering content, you have to kind of try it out a little bit.

“Some teachers who have done it before will have an easier time. But if you’ve never done it in earnest, that’s a struggle.”

Shelton noticed it with his two sons, Michael and Matt, who are continuing their college work online. Some teachers are better with timing and the amount of content to give without overwhelming their students.

The Illinois State Board of Education released a statement to administrators and teachers Friday addressing remote learning. In it, Carmen I. Ayala, the state superintendent of education, lauded the work of a 63-member Remote Learning Advisory Group, which offered teachers several recommendations.

Among those recommendations were to focus on the continuation of learning and prioritizing correctness, with opportunities to redo, make up or try again to complete and show progress.

The group also strongly encouraged grading as pass or incomplete.

Also, it said that keeping children emotionally engaged in learning should be the main priority during this unprecedented time.

“I know this is not the way that any of us envisioned this school year going,” Ayala said. “But I continue to be awed by the phenomenal creativity, resilience, empathy and problem-solving prowess of Illinois’ educators, administrators and students.”

Daniel Armstrong, the director of communications for Huntley School District 158, said his district started e-learning two weeks ago.

“We were able to successfully use e-learning all of last week (March 16 to 20),” Armstrong said. “While the governor designated those days as ‘act of God’ days, we continued pushing out learning opportunities to all our students using our e-learning plan.

“We were pleased that more than 85% of our students accessed the learning opportunities. We received overwhelming positive feedback from families in the survey we distributed last week.”

Most districts have 1-to-1, meaning all students have laptops or some sort of tablet computer on which they can access their teachers and do their assignments. Community High School District 155 Superintendent Steve Olson said that along with the learning management system Canvas, his district is positioned well for e-learning.

“We’re going to have students in different places of understanding and staffs in different places of understanding,” Olson said. “We have worked pretty hard at developing a level of communication with our staff and with the community.

“The state has provided us some guidance, but it’s new to them as well. They’re struggling with what we can and can’t do organizationally as a state association. Some of those things will play their way out as we move forward.”

The state asked for teachers to send questions they have to a link on the ISBE website.

Teachers will be expected to monitor their computers throughout the day to answer questions and provide feedback to their students.

“We have left a fair amount of flexibility for teachers, given the fluidity of the situation and understanding that their own child care arrangements, schedules, etc., have also been severely disrupted,” Armstrong said. “So we instructed teachers to inform their students daily of their communication schedules, how often their email will be checked for questions and the best way for students to contact them during the school day.”

The situation will require creativity and cooperation from both sides with a different way of learning.

“I feel like we have a pretty good plan in play, and we’ll be pushing out lessons on a daily basis to our kids,” Olson said. “We’ll try to provide a continuity of learning and create a level of normalcy in their lives. They’re experiencing a major event for all of us.”

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